21 Oct 2004

Slush funds emerging as a carrot as PNG politicians prepare for more votes of no confidence

4:20 pm on 21 October 2004

There is continued confusion surrounding reports that Papua New Guinea's District Support Grants, often referred to as MPs slush funds, will be increased.

The funds were cut by the government when it came to power two years ago.

But earlier this week, the Post Courier newspaper reported an announcement by the Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, that the 2005 budget would include an increase in the grants.

This has since been denied by Sir Moi Avei, whose portfolio includes responsibility for setting district support grants, who says he knows nothing of any increase and suggested Sir Michael had been misunderstood.

But our correspondent in PNG, Peter Niesi, believes the increase may go ahead in order for the government to try and safeguard it's majority.

"If there was to be a change of government, the opposition seems likely to be able to lure MPs because of its moves to suggest that it would be giving more funds to MPs to directly spend it in their districts and there has been pressure even in some of the government's own ranks including by the Speaker of Parliament, Geoffrey Nape, to reintroduce the district development programme funds which is about one million per MP. And the increase of District Support Grants, the 500 thousand kina one, would help tone down that and the government hopes would keep their numbers in tact."